Writing in East London & London in general

I went on an Arvon course this year. It was one of those things I have had on my Life To-Do List for years, and I was very much looking forward to it.

Arvon courses are the Holy Grail of creative writing retreats; they get booked out very quickly and they also cost a fair amount – around £545 for a four and a half day course, not including travel.

As it turned out, I wasn’t overly thrilled by the experience. Sometimes writing groups just don’t gel, and this was one of those times. We did have Lionel Shriver come and read to us, which was great (it was going to be Hilary Mantel but she won the Booker Prize and pulled out).

However, I’m sure some Arvon courses are very good. And to be fair to the organisers and everyone else who was there, I wasn’t feeling the best that week and was in no mood to be among strangers, or indeed humans of any description. And maybe my expectations were just too high.

But for anyone wanting to dabble a toe in the world of creative writing courses without leaving London, I thought I would list a few courses that I know of or have been on. The single positive side-effect of writing being so badly paid is that most writers, even really good ones, have to supplement their writing income with other work, and tutoring is one such way. London is home to many brilliant writers and writing courses and organisations, much of it generously subsidised by the Arts Council, so I would urge all aspiring writers – and by that I mean anyone who likes sentences and words and reading and listening to stories and poems, not just those advanced types who plan to write a bestseller and retire to the Bahamas – to check a few of them out.

Our very own Baroque in Hackney blogger Katy Evans Bush runs various poetry courses, which you can find out more about on her blog and her website. I haven’t been on any, but I have her book, Me and the Dead, which is published by Salt, and she’s a wonderful poet and, I suspect from reading her blog, an honest, challenging and constructively critical teacher (the best kind: save the therapy, just tell me if it’s crap.)

Spread the Word is a great London writing organisation, with frequent workshops and talks by publishing professionals – I went to one a couple of years back where the head of fiction at Faber & Faber, Hannah Griffiths, talked to us about the business of getting a book deal while calmly breastfeeding her baby; she was refreshingly down-to-earth.

The City Lit is another solid London institution – not just for writing but for anything from pottery to German classes. Mary Flanagan – who lives in Hackney – runs a very good advanced critical workshop where you simply have your work critiqued every few weeks, and do the same for others.

Nick Quentin Woolf runs a few writing workshops at Brick Lane books – he’s a friendly fellow, gives sound advice, and is a shining example of how a good workshop should be run. This is a sociable group and there’s always a drink afterwards on Brick Lane.

Anyway, this is just a starting point: please feel free to add comments on any others you’ve been on and rate. Thanks.



Filed under Books & words in general

15 responses to “Writing in East London & London in general

  1. Pingback: Writing in East London & London in general « East London Local « Internet Cafe Solution

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  3. Nice site – and pic of person just out of bed (it looks like) writing by candlelight. Sweeet.

  4. Whether you’re a new writer, established playwright or looking for some invaluable feedback on your script…The Broadway wants you and 10 pages of your script!
    Script This… is the bi-monthly new writing event held at the Broadway providing a platform for London’s writers, giving them feedback from audiences and an opportunity to see their work developed.
    How it works: 4 scripts are selected by a panel and given the professional treatment from actors and a director into a rehearsed reading in front of a live audience who have a lot to say. Then the audience vote for the script they would like to see more of and that is the winner of the night!
    What happens next: the writer of the winning script will have the opportunity to come back the following Script This evening and show the development of their play in a longer piece to the always eager audience.
    If you have a piece in mind please send 10 pages or the equivalent to a 10 minute extract to scriptthis@thebroadwaybarking.com

    “I was very pleased to see my piece given a real good work out, a credit to both the director and the Actors. Your work in rehearsals certainly brought it to life and has given me a lot of encouragement to continue to work the piece up.”
    Frank Bramwell

    Esther Cleverly

    Jon O’Neill’s 10 min extract was voted The Best of Script This in 2010 and his piece “A Serious Talk” will be developed at The Broadway with the help of Director Montserrat Gili and a cast of professional actors sometime this Autumn.

  5. Thanks for compiling options. I highly recommend Nikk Quentin Woolf’s program. Whipped my novel into shape and I can’t tell what I enjoy more–his feedback or the lively discussion of the group. City Lit is good too, though more expensive and, when I went through, has a larger number of attendees.

  6. http://www.thetelltheatre.com

    Get that play started with writer/director Penny Cliff, designer Pip Nash and the Tell Theatre actors. We have special guests joining us for one-off sessions (most recently the local acclaimed writer Philip Ridley). This is a unique course offering access to professional practitioners who will help to make your story come alive.

    “an inspiring tool kit for all aspiring playwrights” Denise O’Brien, student on PW3

    • 7 Wednesday workshops March 27 to May 15, 6.30-9.00pm.
    • Kobi Nasrul Centre, 32 Hanbury St. E2
    • £140
    • For all levels of playwrights over 16
    • Contact: penny@thetelltheatre.com 07973 796906.


  7. Dear friends,

    Want to see your new play performed in the West End? Get the chance –
    join The Tell Theatre Playwriting Course 4 – places going fast!
    Short plays created during this course will be eligible for professional
    showcase performances at Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden on September
    21/23. We offer new and emerging playwrights practical, stimulating
    teaching from experienced theatre practitioners and special guests –
    recently Philip Ridley. We support writers to complete a short play which
    is workshopped with actors. Our showcase will be the next stage in our
    writers’ development programme. We’re looking for exciting new writers –
    so book the course and join us!

    ‘The Tell’s course is rich, provoking, illuminating, inspiring’ – Dan
    ‘Challenging, fun, inspiring… Penny Cliff knows her stuff’ -Lucy Avery
    “a bright spark in fringe theatre’s crown…” 4 star reviews for BUD,
    Kings Head, July 2012
    Course leader: Penny Cliff, The Tell’s AD, is an experienced
    writer/director and currently leader of Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab.
    • May 29th to July 10th 6.30pm – 9.00pm,
    • £140
    • Brady Arts Centre, 192-6 Hanbury Street, London, E1 5HU

    Bookings and questions penny@thetelltheatre.com 07973 796906
    Like us on Facebook The Tell Theatre. Twitter @TheTellTheatre.

    Kind regards,

    The Tell Theatre Company

  8. Patrick O'Sullivan

    10 Week Autumn Playwriting Course with Philip Ayckbourn

    Join us for a 10 week writing course where you will develop a new piece of work. Develop a play that could be the birth of a larger piece and then take advantage of our play reading night Writenight! Five plays will be selected to be given a rehearsed reading by our professional acting ensemble in January. Course fee £50 and begins 9th September at 7pm, Queens Theatre Hornchurch, RM11 1QT. Book your places through our box office on 01708 443333

  9. I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. Sorry to hear about the Arvon course. I went on one and it was quite traumatic socially for me. As a former visual artist, I seemed to stand out like a saw thumb. I enjoyed reading books by the tutors, and my work did benefit. The person who made the biggest impact on my work was CityLit tutor Scott Bradfield.

    • CityLit is fantastic, I went to Mary Flanagan’s course there & she was brilliant. I know what you mean by ‘traumatic socially’ – that made me laugh. Good luck with your writing.

    • Mrs W

      I found … quite snidey & patronising unless you were in with the nice young in clique. Well there ya go: I’ve had me pennysworth.

  10. Yikes… I mean SORE thumb. Oh!

  11. Try Hackney and East London Writers’ Circle for support, feedback and inspiration.

    The group is free, and open to people of all levels of
    writing…beginners, published writers, and most things in between. We
    meet upstairs at The Talbot, 109 Mortimer Road, Dalston, London, N1
    4JY from 7.00-9.30 pm every first and 3rd Monday.

    For meetings, people bring a piece that they have been
    working on for others to give comment. Pieces have been of the order
    of a few thousand words, but there is no strict limit….really
    depends on how many people want to read at any one meeting.

    We intermingle our own free work, with (if we feel so inclined)
    assignments/themes that we set. But of course, there is no obligation
    to read anything at a meeting, and you can just come along and
    listen/comment/have a chat about writing. We have also started doing
    some writing exercises in the group.

    We have a bi-annual magazine of our own work, which is also posted to
    our blog – hackneywriters.org. We do occasional events with readings
    from the magazine to publicise our work.

    We are using a YahooGroup (HackneyWriters) to stay in touch between
    meetings. If you would like to be kept up to date with the group, then
    please join the list. You can contact hackneywriters-owner@yahoogroups.com for more information about the group,
    or for an invitation to join the yahoo group.

  12. Sean

    Thanks – really useful blog – there’s still not enough easy to find info online about courses

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